Ask 10 different pet experts, and you may get 10 different answers to that question. But one thing is certain: Dogs and cats are meat eaters, and their digestive systems are designed for raw meat consumption.

The average pet owner doesn’t feed their dog or cat this way, but more and more are. Russ Herman, owner and CEO of PetSaver Healthy Pet Superstore in Rochester, has seen a major trend of pet lovers purchasing and feeding a raw diet to their pets.

“It’s no longer just a fad for many dog and cat owners,” said Herman. “Pet owners are much more intelligent these days as to what is best for their pets.”

Major companies like Nature’s Variety, Answers, Primal, Stella, Chewy’s and others have seen big increases in sales of their frozen and dehydrated raw diets.

Pat Gordon of Brighton has been using raw feed for four years. “I started feeding raw food from PetSaver to my sheltie because my pet was overweight” and had skin problems and issues with other food, Gordon said. “I liked the results and now I feed raw to both of my German Shepherds as well.”

PetSaver sells tons of frozen raw diet each month.

“We keep buying more freezers just to store what we need for our customers,” said Herman, adding that associates at the three local Petsaver locations are trained in the advantages of raw diets. “The market is growing much faster than we expected.”

Many people are also buying dehydrated raw diets because of the ease of feeding. It doesn’t require freezing, and all you have to do is add water to it. Pet owners also feed raw bones to their dogs. Another less expensive option is to feed a regular kibble food with dehydrated raw food added to it.

Why is a raw diet superior to regular kibble food? Mostly because kibble food has very little meat in it.

“Many pet food manufacturers list a meat as the first product in their ingredients list. However, after the food is processed and dehydrated, there is very little meat in the food,” Herman said. “It’s very deceptive, and we steer customers away from those manufacturers.”

And kibble food lacks natural enzymes and good bacteria, which get cooked out of it.

Raw foods must still meet nutritional requirements necessary for good health. Manufacturers add the appropriate vitamins to raw diets to meet these standards. Ultimately, you get a very highly digestible protein in the raw diet and a very low amount of carbohydrates. Carbs have very little value to dogs and cats unless they are very young or a lactating female. Carbs also cause the major obesity problems found in pets today.

Pet owners and veterinarians have said a raw diet improves appetite and digestion, provides relief from certain allergies, helps provide a vibrant skin and coat, stimulates healthy teeth and gums, provides greater stamina and vitality, and encourages a healthy immune system.

Cat owners are getting the message about raw food as well. Cats have even higher protein needs than dogs and are more prone to obesity, urinary tract problems and mouth disease issues. A raw diet can help in those areas.

So why doesn’t everyone use a raw diet? It’s not as convenient for storage and feeding as a dry kibble. A raw diet needs to be handled with care. It’s raw meat, after all, so you must keep dishes and prep areas clean as you would when handling raw meat for your family meal.

Pet owners who do use a raw diet say it’s more than worth it.